With luck, in the world of pop, you can be a commercially successful group, or a successfully influential one. Very few are both, and most of course are neither. It must have been especially tough for A Certain Ratio to watch not one but two of their Factory label mates outstrip them on both fronts. But the pioneering spirit of acr – their openness to sounds from beyond the borders of Manchester and Britain, their contrariness, their blend of atmospherics, rhythm and song – that has surely had an influence on many groups since.
‘The big E’, a.k.a. ‘Won’t stop loving you’ is one of their finest songs. It came at a point when they had signed to a major label, and were clearly expected (or even expecting) to deliver. But the big hit single failed to materialise, despite the effort and attainment contained in these grooves. An anthem to refusing to bow to any kind of big elbow (and no doubt a cheeky reference to the Hacienda’s drug of choice, and the lift that awaits anyone who takes it), ‘The big E’ was still just a little too understated, a little too subtle to cut through the white noise of the time. And let’s face it, in Jez Kerr, they did not have a singer who imposed his character on a song, who dominated the rest of the group. After his early punk-funk stridency, he settled on a soft crooning tone which blended perfectly with acr’s meticulous music-making, but did not scream top ten hits.
A couple of years after the release of this single, I reviewed A Certain Ratio for a local listings magazine, having seen them play in Bristol. My review was, I suppose, eight out of ten-ish, not quite a ringing endorsement, and may have dwelt a little on past glories in preference to current form. I subsequently got a half-appreciative, half-defiant note from Rob Gretton, whose label they were signed to at the time. To me, that seemed like the self-same Mancunian spirit with which ‘The big E’ was written.
- A Certain Ratio – The big E (I won’t stop loving you) [concludes with an audio snippet of John Peel!]